You’ve probably walked down Liberty Street and noticed the mannequin rocking a tee that states “Dibs on the Drummer.” Whether this has led you to walk into the store, or mention the quirky tee to a friend, Mamie Ruth has definitely caught your attention. Emily Bargeron, designer and founder of Mamie Ruth, discusses the process of running her business.
Mary Tres: When was Mamie Ruth founded?
Emily Bargeron: That’s such a loaded question because I feel like I’ve been designing forever. I did my first runway show in 2009 as an emerging designer at Charleston Fashion Week, so that was the first time that everything walked the runway. After that, we got a good response from stores and boutiques so we started producing wholesale. So that's probably like the ‘official’ launch date. But within that, I was making everything myself; basically a one man show. I was walking into stores and asking if they wanted to carry it. So as an operating business we’ve been around for about three years. So there was long gap, but it took awhile to find manufacturing and wholesale accounts that we could buy fabric from. Right now, we have manufacturing which is about an hour outside of town. So I work really closely with them and they produce. We ship to about 60 stores around the country. We have a showroom in Atlanta that sells it. It's been such a process. I always describe it as a giant puzzle and you have to find all the puzzle pieces first before you can even start putting them in the right place. It took a long time just to find the puzzle pieces. You think you learn that stuff in school but you really don't.
MT: It definitely takes actual experience. What was the initial idea that sparked its creation?
EB: It all started when I did my first collection for Charleston Fashion Week. I’ve always been really drawn to vintage, so everything was made out of vintage fabrics. I love bright colors and all of the cuts of vintage pieces. The collection was called Patchwork and Posies. I made a lot of the pieces out of an old patchwork quilt and an old Chanel blanket. So everything was one of a kind. But moving forward with that concept, it was so hard because a boutique wants a size run. They want three of something but when it's vintage, you only have one. So I kind of had to shift my whole concept into this 70s inspired with a lot of really bright colors. I try to find prints that are reminiscent of vintage fabrics, but it's all fabrics that we can get yardage of so we can ship to all of our accounts.
MT: How large is your team now?
EB: We still have a very small team. It's myself, Anne and then we have a graphic designer, Jess, in Florida. Our manufacturing team is about six people that cut and sew. Then we work with a showroom in Atlanta. So we have a small team but we have extensions of the team that kind of help everything. Then for the retail store we also have a really great team and we have a good pool of interns. We have five interns that are starting in a week.
MT: Do the interns help with the design work?
EB: They go through the cycles of everything we do. We’ll have marketing and design and social media; reaching out to different businesses in town and things like that so they kind of get their hands in everything.
MT: Can you describe a bit about your design process?
EB: It’s a mess. It's as they say “organic.” It’s whenever I get an idea or a concept of what I want a collection to be. We do five collections a year so they're coming right behind each other. Sometimes you feel like you just got done being inspired and then it's time to be inspired again. Music festivals really inspire us because it's where you can really be whatever you want to be and wear whatever you want to wear. You don't have to worry about if you want to wear glitter and face paint and fringe and flowers in your hair. I think the whole concept of Mamie Ruth is giving you the ability to like feel like you're free, but still feel like you can actually wear these pieces in society. So it's kind of like a mix of ‘out there’ but still within the limits. The concept is definitely always free spirited. I always say they’re the clothes that make you want to dance; make you wanna have fun. I have a friend who always comes here before she goes to a music festival and she literally comes here to get like a costume [laughs]. I feel like I’m her costume store and it always looks so crazy and awesome...but crazy. During halloween I’ll have so many people come and they're like “I wanna be a hippie.” Well I got you covered. It’s just clothes that you can have fun in.
MT: That's such a positive outlook. I also think it's really great that you use sustainable materials. Can you explain how you go about sourcing those?
EB: Our main fabric is called modal. It’s derived from bamboo so it's a lot easier to harvest and it replenishes quicker. We also use deadstock fabric. So if a big company produced a thousand yards of fabric, but then they only needed 800; the rest is waste. We buy a lot of deadstock which keeps that from going into landfills. We still use vintage fabrics whenever we can. It’s honestly really hard to source sustainable fabrics. That’s something that definitely needs to be improved on or just manufacturing sustainable fabrics in general because it is really, really hard to find those that aren't so expensive. We definitely buy from US manufacturers whenever possible.
MT: What does the typical work week look like as far as manufacturing?
EB: The typical work week just doesn't happen around here but that's what makes it fun. We’re on a schedule; so we decide on the collection and then we go into the sales with the collection. When the sales come in, we put those into manufacturing. If you see that rack right there [points], that's all of our new spring pieces that we’re now shipping to all of the stores. So a lot of times there will be interns back there; tagging and folding and packing boxes. That isn’t the beautiful idea of being a designer but it's the reality. We have a music festival next week in Atlanta that we’re vendoring at so we do that a lot. It’s a great marketing way to get in front of the customers that we want wearing our stuff. So right now I’m getting the displays ready for that. I’ve been making dream catchers this morning [laughs]. I’m making a dreamcatcher and I’m like ‘this feels like such a waste of time,’ but it's all about the branding. When people come into our booth at a music festival, we want them to immediately feel the brand. It makes you want to wear the clothes and it makes you want to have fun. So everything down to putting the feathers on the bottom of the dreamcatcher; it's all a part of it. It’s no less important than packing the biggest order.
MT: How long does it typically take to finish a piece?
EB: It varies. Each collection is really hard because I’ll do the first sample in house. A lot of the times in my head or on paper, it'll be one thing. Then I start making it and I think ‘I don't really like this.’ So I’ll just try it on every ten minutes and then it ends up a completely different garment than I imagined, but it’s cooler. So it's hard to say, it can take months.
MT: Do you just design as you go then?
EB: Yeah, it's totally as I go. I usually get inspired by the fabrics before I really know what the design is going to be. So once I find the fabrics that I like, then I’ll kind of go from there. We have some pieces that we do every season. Our bell bottoms are a staple so every single season, we’ll have like a different fabric of the bell bottoms or a couple dresses that we always cut. Then I try to add in five to ten new pieces; new styles every season or every collection and kind of phase some out. If one is a really big seller, we’ll keep it in for a couple seasons. It’s definitely a lot of work whenever we're putting out a whole new collection, but it's so much fun.
MT: Is the jewelry designed in house?
EB: Yes, the jewelry is designed in house. So this is Mary Liz [points] and Rachel is in there making her stuff right now. We’re two separate companies but all of her stuff is made in house and she also wholesales. She is a graduate of SCAD, so she's been doing it for awhile too. We just kind of teamed up here. We design all the clothes in back and she designs the jewelry right there [points to front], and then we sell them all right here.
MT: Thats awesome!
EB: Yea it's a perfect partnership.
MT: Where do you see your largest following of customers? Do you think it's Savannah specifically?
EB: Maybe. I think that since our retail store is here and the fact that I went to Georgia Southern and a lot of our interns come from there, definitely helps. I don't want to say no but we definitely have a following from a lot of different areas. We definitely try to focus a lot on our social media. We send clothes to bloggers, so we try to really generate customers from all over. But I guess Savannah would be pretty high up there.
MT: How often do you have events here?
EB: We have a couple of events every month. We do yoga the first Saturday of every month. We call it Yoga and Mimosas, so it's free yoga and then we have mimosas afterwards. We try to have a party every month as well.
MT: What is the best way to stay up to date on your events? Is it through Instagram? Social media?
EB: I would follow our stores Instagram, which is @mamieruth_mliz. We always post about the events. Facebook is probably really good and we always have the events page on our website. Next week I’ll be in Atlanta at a store called American Threads doing a trunk show on Thursday. And then on Friday we'll be at Shaky Knees Festival and we have a pop up store there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All of that will be on our website.
MT: And then last question, what's your favorite piece in the shop right now?
EB: Oh yea, I'll show you. We’re actually having this sent to a musician. So it's a leather fringe vest that we always have.
Mamie Ruth is located at 107 W. Liberty St, Savannah, GA 31401.
Stay connected with all of Mamie Ruth’s events and current collections by checking out their website at http://mamieruth.com/.
Photography by Erin Wyrosdick.